When you are faced with a life-threatening event, you learn a lot about yourself and about what's important. Recently, I got a lot of education.
I had open-heart surgery to replace my aortic valve, which is a major event. As many surgeries go, mine was not without complications. The surgery itself went well, and after five days in the hospital I was released to go home and convalesce. On the second day home, I fell flat on my face and ended up back in the hospital with what turned out to be a bleeding duodenal ulcer. At first the physicians didn’t know what to do. After my gastroenterologist failed to shut down the bleeding with clamps, I was taken to an interventional radiologist late on a Saturday night. He is one of the few physicians in the country who specializes in a procedure that uses coils to close off the ulcer. He just happened to be in the hospital that night, and he saved my life. Only later on did I realize how serious this was and that my family was warned I might not make it through the night.
Afterward, I spent quite some time in intensive care. During my recuperation I would take frequent naps. One morning I woke up to see, at the foot of my bed, the smiling face of Tony Alibrio. He couldn’t have picked a better time to be there. He had flown in from Connecticut to spend the day with me, and I will always remember that moment as long as I live. It did wonders for my morale and for my health.
I have known Tony since the early ’80s. In 2001 he retired as president of Sodexho Marriott’s Health Care Division, where he managed sales of more than $3 billion. In the early years of Modern Healthcare Marriott was one of our steady advertisers. Tony was somebody I liked immediately because of his ready smile and sense of humor.
At various healthcare trade shows Tony and I and some of our associates would get together for dinner, storytelling and just plain fun. Each year Tony and I would attend the prestigious Health Insights meetings, and both of us were on the board of the National Committee for Quality Healthcare. Today since we are both retired from our main careers, we find ourselves on a number of boards together.
Over the years we have become golfing buddies; playing anywhere we can find a course. As far as I am concerned there’s only one problem with playing golf with Tony, and that is that he usually beats me. I’ve asked him for a stroke here and there, but he always turns a deaf ear to my requests. I have only managed to beat him a couple of times, and that makes the world ever so wonderful on that given day.
Tony was one of the best salespeople I have ever known. Throughout the healthcare industry he was known for his candor. People always had nice things to say about his integrity and principles. Like Bill Kelley, the former chairman of Hill-Rom, and Vernon Loucks Jr., former chairman and CEO of Baxter International, Tony was an icon in the healthcare industry; when he spoke, people listened. He was the epitome of what any leader should be. He always looked after his people and he liked to mentor young people coming into the business. Hopefully, what I’ve told you about Tony will give you a brief introduction to what kind of a man he is.
I’ve heard people try to define friendship. Others talk about how lucky it is to have one true friend in their lifetime. Many people go through life without anybody they can really trust. I find that sad. I have always had good buddies; a few can be called friends. But when someone goes out of his way like Tony did, that is my definition of friendship. Someday soon I hope I can reciprocate, but first I hope to get back on the golf course, where I will once again beg Tony for a few strokes, and, as usual, Tony will pretend not to hear me.
Thanks, Tony, for being my friend.